Managing Stress, Anxiety and Depression Through COVID-19

According to a 2018 American Psychological Association survey more than 3,000 individuals reported that their top stressors were work, economy, health and money.

The spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) has left most of us feeling overwhelmed and stressed. As a nation there is a communal feeling of uncertainty. Will I get sick? Will my family be OK? What happens if I lose my job? Will the economy bounce back? These questions are valid and result in an overwhelming amount of stress.

Under certain situations stress is a natural biochemical process and our bodies are well equipped to handle small amounts of stress. However, high levels of prolonged stress negatively impact our mental health. Under chronic stress, the nervous system sends messages and signals to release stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones alter the body’s physiology and puts us in a state of “fight-or-flight”. When we find ourselves in a chronic fight-or-flight state our brains and bodies function differently. In working with those experiencing stress it is not uncommon to see an increase in headaches and migraines, sleep disturbances, increased and/or decreased appetite, fatigue, lack of motivation, and feelings of isolation. Studies have continually discussed the role of chronic stress and the onset of disorders such as depression and anxiety and anyone that has ever experienced stress can tell you that it comes with an undercurrent of mental health issues.

The current state of our future may come with uncertainty, but the steps we take today and as a community will help us through these difficult times and allow us to stay healthy and be the best versions of ourselves.

Tips to Managing Stress, Anxiety and Depression:

Maintain structure: Although most of us are on stay-at-home orders, maintaining structure in our daily lives is essential. It is important to maintain a normal waking time, continuing to exercise at a distance, and keep a list of tasks or things to do around the house nearby. When we keep our routine and structure, we will experience less depression and anxiety.

Focus on grounding techniques: The increase in stress, anxiety and depression are a direct result of not staying in the present. Humans are notorious for focusing on the past and the future rather than the present. When we stay present, we become capable of handling the stress in our lives and can reason and make better decisions for our health and wellbeing. In the coming weeks we will all find ourselves thinking about the past and feeling uncertain about the future, however, practicing grounding techniques can help keep us present. Such techniques include looking around a room and naming objects, practicing breathing, prayer, and mediation, and/or taking a walk and focusing on your surroundings.

Focus on mindfulness activities: Activities such as meditation, prayer, or yoga can all be done from the comfort of your home. Mindfulness activities have shown to decrease cortisol levels and have a calming effect on the brain.

Get adequate sleep: Restful sleep results in a healthy mood and immune system. Lack of sleep is very stressful on the body. Those that struggle with sleep experience increased levels or stress, anxiety, depression and have poor immune function. Try to get 7-8 hours of restful sleep per night and focus on a nightly routine of self-care before bed such as deep breathing, a warm bath, using lavender in a diffuser and minimizing TV and screen time.

Maintain a healthy diet: The foods we eat will fuel our bodies and our brains. Focusing on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains improves brain function. Complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and whole grains (peas, beans, rice, quinoa, lentils, etc.) promote serotonin production in the brain reducing depressive symptoms of depression. Additionally, a diet promoting whole foods will support healthy blood sugar levels which are essential for brain function. The brain requires glucose to function and when we do not have adequate glucose levels, or our blood sugar levels spike and drop we experience more anxiety episodes. This is because glucose aids in the production of gaba, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When we do not have healthy levels of gaba in our brains we become more anxious.

Discuss your feelings with loved ones and friends: Discussing our feelings and concerns with loved ones can help us feel reassured. If we are going to get through this, then we need to do it together. Focus on staying connected to your family and friends and be open to discussing your stress and concerns.

If you find yourself needing more support, I am here for you!!!!

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